4 Canadians unaccounted for in wake of deadly Florida condo tower collapse

The Canadians are among the more than 150 people who remain missing following the deadly collapse of a 12-storey condo tower in a Florida shore town, where rescuers are working around the clock in hopes of finding survivors amid the rubble of the crumbled building.

Death toll rises to 5 and 156 people remain missing, says Miami-Dade mayor

Search continues for 159 missing after Miami-area condo collapse

1 year ago
Duration 2:10
Hope is fading at the site of a partially collapsed condo building near Miami. Officials say four people have died, but as many as 159 may be buried in the rubble. Global Affairs Canada says four Canadians 'may be affected.'

Four Canadians remain unaccounted for in the wake of a deadly collapse of a 12-storey condo tower in a Florida shore town, where rescuers are working around the clock in hopes of finding survivors amid the rubble of the crumbled building.

"This is a terrible situation, it's shocking and it's tragic," Canada's consul general in Miami, Susan Harper, told CBC News on Saturday as she stood in front of the family reunification centre, not far from the search and rescue site in the city of Surfside, near Miami.

Harper confirmed the four Canadians are from two different households. Relatives from one household are making their way to Florida, as they wait for more information about the search and rescue operation. A relative of the other family was already in the state.

Because of privacy rules, Harper could not share the names, ages or any specific details about the missing.

Death toll rises

The death toll from the collapse that occurred two days ago has risen to five, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on Saturday evening. Working throughout the day, rescue crews found another body amid the rubble, but also other human remains, she said.

The identification of three bodies had dropped the number of unaccounted for down to 156, she said.

Flowers lie on the beach near the Champlain Towers South condo building on Saturday in Surfside, Fla., near Miami Beach. The building partially collapsed on Thursday. (Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press)

Rescue workers continued to go over the massive mountain of debris with rescue dogs and sonar searching for any survivors, she said.

"Our top priority continues to be search and rescue and saving any lives that we can," she said.

The Miami-Dade Police Department later Saturday said four of the five deceased had been identified, along with the apartments where they were at the moment of the collapse. They included the mother of a boy who was rescued the night the building toppled, a couple in their late 70s and early 80s, and a 54-year-old man.

Officials said remains they find are being sent to the medical examiner, and they are also gathering DNA samples from family members to help identify them.

Several Canadians own units in the building that has collapsed. While Harper, the consul general, could not provide a specific number, government officials have been able to confirm the whereabouts of all but the four missing Canadians.

But she says consular staff are working with the families to provide what information and support they can.

"Several have asked for help already, just getting here, especially in a COVID context," Harper said.

Engineer flagged 'concrete deterioration'

A newly released 2018 report showed that an engineer found evidence of major structural damage beneath the pool deck and "concrete deterioration" in the underground parking garage of the condominium tower near Miami Beach, three years before it collapsed Thursday.

Officials said Saturday they harboured hope that some of the scores of people still unaccounted for might be found alive but acknowledged that a fire somewhere beneath the rubble was slowing rescue teams, filling the area with smoke and frustrating firefighters' efforts to locate the source.

Aided by dogs, infrared scanning and heavy equipment, rescuers held out hope that air pockets that may have formed in the debris might keep people alive.

Leo Soto kneels in front of a makeshift memorial that includes pictures of missing people in Surfside, Fla., on Friday, after the collapse of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South condo building the previous day. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Among those anxiously awaiting word of missing loved ones was Rachel Spiegel, whose mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, lived on the sixth floor. 

"I know my mom is a fighter. I know she loves us. I know she doesn't want to give up," Spiegel said Saturday.

Report produced for condo board

The engineer's 2018 report, released by town officials, was produced for the condominium board in preparation for a major repair project set to get underway this year.

An aerial view of the building shortly after the disaster early Thursday morning. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

It wasn't immediately clear whether the damage described in the report was in any way connected with the collapse.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said officials had not been aware of the report. In an email, vice-mayor Tina Paul called the structural issue described in the document "very alarming."

The engineer, Frank Morabito, warned that the waterproofing installed below the pool deck had failed due to a major error in design.

"The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas," he wrote. "Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially."

Morabito also said concrete columns, beams and walls in the garage were showing "abundant cracking," including areas underneath the pool with "exposed, deteriorating rebar." Morabito could not be reached for comment on Friday.

WATCH | Dozens missing after condo collapse: 

Dozens unaccounted for after condo collapse near Miami

1 year ago
Duration 1:53
Dozens of people are unaccounted for and at least one person is dead after a 12-storey condo building collapsed in a beachfront community outside Miami.

Morabito's firm submitted an 84-page document to the town in April detailing a "40-year building repair and restoration" plan for the Champlain Towers South condominium, which was built in 1981.

The condominium was preparing for recertification this year, a safety requirement for Florida buildings that reach 40 years of age.

Nearby property to be evaluated

Later Saturday, authorities said they would help residents of a similar tower nearby in Surfside — the Champlain Towers North — evacuate as they examine it for structural flaws that might indicate a similar risk.

Rescue crews work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo on Friday in Surfside, Fla. The apartment building partially collapsed on Thursday. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

"I need to be able to say it's safe, and I can't right now," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told Reuters. "In an abundance of caution it's probably prudent to let folks relocate for a couple of weeks while we check it."

Burkett said he had no information to indicate the north tower had similar structural flaws. But he said the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency would relocate residents for several weeks to allow a thorough review of the property.

The evacuation is not mandatory, he said, but many residents are eager to leave.

With files from Katie Simpson, Reuters and The Associated Press